The Gilded Age of MLS - John Ball

Via The Offside Rules, who come to the opposite conclusion that I do.

Greg Lalas:

Oh, but I have, Greg. TOR's fellow Designated Player Du Nord sums it up:

Well, so let's ignore the specific example, and focus on the larger points.

Which, by the way, also means ignoring the great runs that USL teams had in the Open Cup, and Puerto Rico and Montreal have had in the Champions Cup. Very inspiring, yes. And, thanks to the mantra "Small sample size," depressingly easy to explain. Around the same time as John Ball was playing for the Fire, the Rochester Rhinos were winning the Open Cup - an achievement with effectively no repercussions whatsoever. Next year, when MLS teams make six or seven of the eight quarterfinalists in the Open Cup again, remember the words "small sample size."

Anyway. The larger points. MLS teams are cheaping it out when it comes to...who, exactly? Here are the guaranteed 2008 salaries of the players that Chicago used to bore Kansas City to death on Sunday:

Jon Busch - $81,250
Gonzalo Segares - $61,090, wow, good deal
Diego Gutierrez - $107,500
Bakary Soumare - $103,000
Brandon Prideaux - $72,000
Dasan Robinson - $44,625
Justin Mapp - $171,000
Stephen King - $17,000
Cuauhtemoc Blanco - plays for the love of the game
Logan Pause - $84,230
John Thorrington -$61,875
Brian McBride - a matter of considerable secrecy (or he rejoined MLS after the chart was put out, I don't know which)
Chris Rolfe - $86,075
Marco Pappa - $33,000

King and Pappa are rookies, and Robinson is in his third year. All three should probably have a chat regarding a raise of some sort. But that's not who Lalas is talking about here - he's talking about guys like this:

Looks the league already does pay starting d-mids and defenders in the $80,000-$100,000 range, though. If you think the Fire are an anomaly, check out this year's salaries for yourself.

If guys in the USL were good enough to start for MLS teams, they would. Brandon Prideaux isn't going to the Hall of Fame, either. Hell, he was cut at the start of this year, I thought he was done. But there's no quit in Prideaux, just a spare "x" and a lot of superfluous vowels. Millions of fans have seen Prideaux play...he just didn't get the glory. He doesn't sell tickets, but he still pulls in, at the twilight of his career, seventy large. On pure talent, or talent mixed with experience expertly applied. He ain't there for his upside, anymore than Ball or someone like him would be.

We're talking about shelling money for backups and reserves. The John Balls of the world would be sitting on MLS benches...and, with the small rosters, taking spaces away from more promising prospects.

Wow. Where to start.

I cheer for a very bad soccer team. On that roster is a backup goalkeeper named Josh Wicks. You might have seen him the past couple of weeks. Raw as sashimi. Prone to some really howling mistakes. USL goalkeeper of the year last year.

Also in town is a team I hate a whole lot. They have a guy called Maykel Galindo. Last year, they were able to lure him away from the Seattle Sounders for the princely sum of $79,750. Good deal, too, until his legs exploded, but that's nobody's fault.

Those "hit-or-miss" South American and African younglings* are some of the most exciting players in the league. Their USL equivalents are...well, yeah, you'll call up the occasional Macoumba Kandji. It's not an either-or proposition, either.

And - couple of impolite things here. Not every USL team is a model of stability. Portland, Rochester, Minnesota - sure, rats off to ya. But the best USL discovery ever was a guy named Stern John, who was discovered by a team called the New Orleans Riverboat Gamblers. Their memory lives on here. (Wait...that's weird, no it doesn't. Okay, it should. But it does live on here.) Stern John? Oh, he played for the Crew for one glorious year...and then left for more money. In the grand scheme of things, internationally, we're as much a minor league as the USL. You don't see the Iowa Cubs freeing up money to improve the overall quality of play at the expense of the bottom line.

Which brings us to Greg's near-final point:

By the way, don't you hate reading long Internet posts about long Internet posts, with the original post chopped up into parts for the convenience of the second writer? "Fisking," I believe it's called. It's actually sheer laziness, and writers who do this should be deeply ashamed of their lackadaisical incompetence.

Where was I. Okay. There's a flaw in this admittedly inspirational line of thinking. To illustrate it, let's substitute businesses for a second.

Many of you out there belong to what I believe is called a "supporters club." Frankie Hejduk spent a game in one last weekend, if I ever bump into him I'll ask him what it was like. Furthermore, many of these "supporters clubs" aren't necessarily "happy" about certain things. Security guards, pricing, bringing in things, not bringing in things, being called garbage by your DP, paying the highest prices in the league to watch a slow-motion re-enactment of R. Budd Dwyer's last press conference - many, many problems beset the "supporter."

One of the ways they DON'T address these problems is to point out how successful the team is now, and conclude that demands should be made. That's called, striking while the iron is cold. Maybe down the road, we'll have owners who are simply obsessed with winning. People like Steinbrenner and Cuban and Al Davis and Jerry Jones and won't that bring forth a whole slew of different problems. At least they'll understand winning for its own sake, though.

But as the league gets more successful, we'll get more owners in the mold of Sterling, Frontiere, Bidwill, Modell - basically, criminals who haven't been caught yet.

(Not that the above list aren't criminals - Steinbrenner was caught, after all.)

Now, picture a "supporters group" getting any of those people to do anything.

Oh, I forgot another category of owner - Disney, Fox, the Chicago Tribune...yeah, no one's more receptive to the concerns of the fans than a multinational corporate octopus.

I don't think Lalas means "observers and fans," though. I think he means players, of which he was one - and in the original days, when they really were indentured servants. The premise here is that withholding of MLS lower and middle class labor will damage the league, and that the support of "observers and fans" will be decisive in winning a labor struggle. He's wrong, and I hope I never have to explain why - let alone have us live through why.

But whether it's labor stoppage, salary caps, roster expansions, or allowing the supporters to have fun in the section - it must always be presented to the owners as a way to (1) help them make money, or (2) prevent them from losing money.

Yeah, maybe Drew Carey and Adrian Hanauer will be able to get your message through Paul Allen, maybe not. By and large, if you don't speak the language of money to MLS owners, you might as well be speaking Klingon.

*I'm sorry, I just can't get this word out of my head. Damn you, Lucas, damn you to hell